Hamels in best ST shape of his life; Contreras draws raves; More

Cole Hamels partakes in field exercises during spring training at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. ( David Swanson / Staff Photographer )

Good afternoon from Clearwater. It feels good to actually have some stone-cold information to pass along as pitchers and catchers held their first workout today.

In no particular order. . .

1) Cole Hamels drew a glowing review from pitching coach Rich Dubee today for the work he put in over the offseason. Hamels says he never stopped throwing during the break, going as far as to take his glove and ball along on vacation, where he found a tennis court where he could throw against a wall. They were just games of long-toss and catch, but according to both Hamels and Dubee, it has made all the difference in the world. Last year, Hamels said he didn't do any of it, and when he reported to spring training, his velocity was barely cracking 80 miles per hour.

"You watch him long toss right now, he's far beyond where he's ever been in spring training," Dubee said. "And he deserves a lot of credit for that. Because he was faced with a challenge. You need to start throwing. You need to get yourself ready. You need to be able to come to spring training where some work can be done. Being the perfectionist that he is, he took it to heart, and he did the work that he had to do. So he's in a much better position right now. He could have gone home and sulked again and said, oh, what do they know. He didn't do that. He went home and did what he had to do."

Because his arm is strong, Dubee says Hamels will be able to work a lot more on his curveball during spring training, something he did not get to do last year. Hamels has experimented with a cutter over the offseason, even talking to Steve Carlton and John Wetteland about developing the pitch, but neither he nor Dubee are expecting it to be a significant part of his repetoire at this point. The curve ball is still his third pitch, while the cutter remains in the experimental/developmental phase.

2) Jamie Moyer threw off a mound and did some light cutting drills today, surprising the Phillies, who did not expect him to be able to do either so soon after January arthroscopic knee surgery. Dubee said there was a "real good shot" that Moyer was ready for Opening Day, although he did not label him his No. 5 starter. Asked whether Moyer had the job, or whether there would be an open competition (the chief rival would be young righty Kyle Kendrick), Dubee said the team has not even discussed the situation.

3) Asked about any first impressions from the first workout, Charlie Manuel singled out new righty reliever Jose Contreras, who threw off the mound today. Manuel said he was impressed with the splitter Contreras was throwing, and added that he thought the big, veteran Cuban could step into the role that righthander Chan Ho Park filled last year, as a high-leverage/multiple innings type pitcher. Fellow veteran -- and fellow Cuban free agent signee -- Danys Baez who can pitch in multiple inning situations and on back-to-back days, much like righthander Chad Durbin.

4) Dubee said the timelines given by Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero to the media -- Lidge said he was two weeks behind and could start throwing off a mound in a week; Romero said he would be able to pitch full-strength in games by mid-March -- jibed with his understanding of their respective situations.

5) Hamels will throw off the mound tomorrow.

6) A quote from Dubee on righthander Scott Mathieson, who could compete for a spot in the bullpen after having overcome two elbow surgeries in the last two years:

"Last year he pitched with big-time velocity. but again, he's on a learning curve where, I don't want to say he has to make up for lost time, but he sitll needs innings and needs experience. He needs to get out there pitch on a regular basis. You can't make up for experience. You need to get on a mound and pitch, and that's what Scottie needs to do. Knock on wood, he's been healthy. Tremendous work ehtic. He's had to ligament replacements. He's in a much better position now because he understands his body a little better, understands his delivery a little better and hopefully continues to stay healhty and pitch for us."

7) Placido Polanco arrived in Clearwater today. He and second baseman Chase Utley took turns fielding ground balls from Sam Perlozzo on the half field behind the stadium.

Manuel admitted that Pedro Feliz had one of the best arms in the major leagues at third base, but said he thought Polanco was an all-around upgrade:

"Polanco plays a little bit shallow," Manuel said. "Polanco has quick feet at third base. To me, third base is kind of a step and a dive -- it's a reaction kind of place. I think that Polly can definitely do that. I think that Polly does throw good and he's accurate, and all around with the bat and everything I think he is a better player than Feliz. Feliz did a tremendous job for us defensively, but I don't see how we are going to get hurt there because I think Polly is going to be more than adequate. He was before."